Judson Haims: Save a (child’s) life and safeguard your medicines, especially during holiday season

Judson Haims
Special to The Aspen Times
Judson Haims
Courtesy photo

For many people, the holiday season means extra visits with family and friends, creating fun memories, sharing traditions and enjoying the warm glow of family.

With all the decorating and activities, it’s easy to let safety slip off your to-do list. But this is an excellent time to make sure powerful medicines don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Non-medical use of prescription drugs is a serious problem in the United States. You’d have to be living under a pretty big rock on a remote island in the middle of nowhere not to be aware of the opioid epidemic in our country. According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), prescription pain medications have been responsible for almost 9,000 adolescent children deaths between 1999 and 2019. Let me do the math for you — that’s about 529 children a year. Could your child/grandchild be part of this statistic?

For older children, those in high school, it is estimated that almost 20% have misused prescription drugs. Sadly, 43% of the children admitted to hospitals for opioid overdose ended up in the ICU. Young adults between the ages of 25 and 44 make up for about half of all overdose death from opioids.

It’s not just opioids that are wreaking havoc on our society, it’s any and all misuse of prescription and illicit drugs. Drug addiction crosses all age groups, and it often starts with prescription medicines that have been liberated from the medicine cabinets of family and friends.

While locking up your medications may be one of the best deterrents to medication theft, education may take the forefront and ultimately be more effective. Most teens and young adults do not realize, or are able to comprehend, the devastating consequences of drug abuse.

It is not just the medicine cabinets at home that should be monitored this holiday season, but those at grandma and grandpa’s house. A few missing pills here and there could be from the innocent grandson or granddaughter you’d never suspect. It could also be the cleaning person, a house guest, a visitor or even a neighbor. Unfortunately, theft of prescription medication can be committed by anyone who has unfettered access to the home. The problem is so widespread that even trusted medical or home care personnel could be responsible.

You need to be vigilant about knowing the quantities and location of your meds. Regular monitoring of the medicines in your home can save the life of your loved one.

Be aware of meds in the home. Be diligently aware of all the medications in your home. You must be conscientious to know what’s in your house and account for all your medications. Counting pills and making a list will help ensure that none are missing.

While you may think that nobody may be interested in the Valium, Xanax, Ritalin or sleeping pills such as Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta that have been in your medicine cabinet for ages, these medications can be traded for other medication such as Oxycodone, Vicodin and other opioids.

Keep all medicines and over-the-counter items — especially cough syrup, sleep aids and motion sickness medicine — locked up, or move them to a place where they won’t be easily found.

Check around your home for old medicines. Purses, coat pockets, kitchen cupboards, bureau drawers and hall closets are common places to find old medicines.

If you travel this holiday season with your prescription drugs, lock them up or find a secure place to hide them. Suitcases and purses are not safe places to keep narcotics and potentially dangerous prescriptions.

Sort through all your medicines and get rid of old or unused ones. The label will tell you how to dispose of them. Before you put them in the trash, mix them with something that tastes bad, like cat litter or old coffee grounds, and then put them in a sealed bag or old container and place it in the trash. Call one of the local pharmacies and get a deactivation pouche. (Most medicine should not be flushed because it gets into creeks, rivers and even our water system.)

Locally, our police departments have a “drug take-back” program which provides a safe method of disposal. Located at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Basalt Police Department are disposal boxes where unused and expired medications can be disposed of. Please make sure to remove all personal identifying information from the medications.

The disposal boxes are available during business hours. Keep the Poison Help number handy in case of emergencies: 800-222-1222.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for the elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be reached at and 970-328-5526.